From Intel to Innovation: Apple’s Journey to Self-Developed Chips

Recently, Apple granted CNBC an exclusive interview, during which it unveiled its chip laboratory to the public for the first time. The CNBC team not only toured Apple’s chip laboratory located in Cupertino, California but also engaged in discussions with several Apple executives involved in hardware operations, shedding light on the rationale behind the shift to self-developed chips. The footage revealed a seemingly modest room bustling with hundreds of machines, where developers were diligently testing components.

Apple 3nm chips

Apple commenced its processor development journey in 2008 with a modest team of around forty to fifty engineers. Following the launch of the iPhone 4 with the A4 processor in 2010, the development team rapidly expanded. By 2023, Apple’s chip development team had grown to several thousand engineers, distributed across laboratories in the United States, Israel, Germany, Austria, the United Kingdom, and Japan. John Ternus, a veteran employee with 22 years at Apple and the Senior Vice President of Hardware Engineering, remarked that the in-house chip project represents one of the “most profound changes at Apple in the past two decades.”

Apple views its proprietary chips as exceptionally streamlined and efficient. By producing chips solely for its products, Apple can focus more acutely on optimizing the products themselves. The scalable architecture enables Apple to reuse certain combinations across different products. Moreover, these self-developed chips have virtually enabled all Macs to run triple-A titles.

Johny Srouji, the head of Apple’s chip project, noted that a recent significant evolution in their self-developed chips has been the strengthening of the GPU segment within the SoC, incorporating PC-like features such as hardware-based ray tracing and accelerated mesh shading. Apple has also been continually developing NPUs for AI acceleration in devices. When questioned about whether Apple is lagging in the AI domain, the leader expressed confidence, denying any belief in Apple’s backwardness in this field.